20 Things to Prepare Before Traveling Abroad: A Checklist

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As you begin preparing for international travel, you may start to feel overwhelmed by all the things to remember. Do I have all the documents I need? Have I taken care of all the details at home?

Worry not, we're here to help with this “traveling abroad checklist.” It has all the essential things you will need to do before heading to the airport.

Two carry-on suitcases in front of table holding items needed for a trip abroad.

Documents

1. Get a passport.

If you already have one, check its expiration date. Most countries won't let you in if the expiration date is less than 6 months away. If you need a new passport, apply right away, don't wait. Although we got ours in less than a month it has sometimes been known to take as long as 3 months to arrive.

2. Get your visas.

Not all countries offer visas on arrival. Depending on your nationality each country has different arrangements, and requirements can change. Waiting for a visa can take a month or more, so submit your visa application early and ensure it will be valid for your entire stay.

TIP: Click here to check the visa requirements for your destination.

Medical preparations for traveling

3. Check your medications.

If you use medication, ensure you have enough to last throughout the duration of your trip. Carry a copy of your prescription for added security. Also, if you are undergoing any special treatment, consider carrying a scanned copy of your records or a letter from your doctor detailing your treatment.

4. Check with your insurance carrier.

Ask your medical and homeowner's insurance providers whether your policy applies overseas for emergencies. For instance, your medical policy may offer emergency flights or your homeowner policy may cover loss or theft during travel.

If it doesn’t, or if you want to add extra coverage, buy travel insurance. It's quite affordable.

5. Verify country-specific vaccinations.

Some countries won't let you enter without proof you've been immunized against certain diseases, such as yellow fever or malaria. All immunizations must be recorded and presented on an official International Certificate of Vaccination, also known as the “yellow health card.”

TIP: Click here to check vaccination requirements for your destination.

Financial preparations for traveling

6. Ensure your credit card will work in the country you’re visiting.

Does your card have a chip? Most foreign banks have switched to chip-and-PIN technology, and fewer businesses abroad accept the outdated magnetic-strip cards.

7. Alert your credit card company to your travel plans.

Few things are worse than not being able to access funds while overseas! (We speak from personal experience.)

Tell your bank when you'll be traveling and where you will be, and ask them to add the information to your file. This way, your bank's fraud department may freeze your account, assuming someone's stolen your number.

TIP: Add the phone number on the back of your card to your phone contacts. This will ensure you can quickly call the bank in an emergency.

8. Check your credit card's additional benefits

Some credit cards cover canceled flights and lost bags if you've purchased your ticket using the card.

Also, if you plan to rent a car, find out if your credit card offers any coverage for damages to a rental car.

9. Pay your upcoming bills.

Sign up for your bank's Bill Pay feature and online access so you can transfer money and/or pay bills while you're overseas. Alternatively, you may want to pay any bills in advance or leave signed checks with a trusted friend.

10. Research extra travel fees and taxes.

Some countries require travelers to pay an entrance or departure fee, which can cost as much as $200. These fees are not included in the price of your airline ticket, so budget accordingly.

Destination research

11. Buy tickets before you arrive.

Tourists can often get special discounts that locals cannot access, but some must be purchased before arrival. We've seen hefty savings for train tickets in some countries.

Many cities offer a pass that offers free or discounted admission to major attractions and transportation. You can also purchase skip-the-line tickets online.

By buying in advance, you’ll be able to skip the ticket lines and better plan your itinerary.

12. Search and download apps and maps beforehand.

Many apps are available that will help you plan your trip and navigate while there. To avoid data charges from your wireless carrier, download all your travel apps before you leave and ensure that any apps you choose can be accessed offline.

13. Check multiple hotel sites before you book.

HotelsCombined lets you search dozens of booking sites and see it all on one page, from HostelWorld to Expedia, Booking, Hotels.com, Agoda and more. Filter for prices, amenities, and ratings before you book. Use this search box to find a place to stay:

Staying in touch while you travel

14. Register with your embassy.

If there’s an unforeseen problem in the country, this will alert your government where you are and get you to safety. It’s also smart to print out the address and contact information of the local embassy.

15. Activate your phone’s global capabilities.

There’s usually a charge for doing this, but it is much less than the roaming charges you’ll get if you don’t.

Two cheaper alternatives:

  • purchase and use a local SIM card
  • download WhatsApp for calls and text

16. Share your travel plans.

Let loved ones know your travel plans so they can contact you. In the unlikely event there's a news event or catastrophe in one of your destinations, knowing where you actually are may put their minds at ease.

When a volcano spewed ash into the air over western Indonesia, our friends didn't worry. They knew we were far from the action, enjoying Bali's sunny weather.

TIP: If your family is concerned about your destination (as happened to us when we decided to tour Iraq), use the State Department’s travel warnings and alerts to set their minds at ease.

Security while traveling

17. Prepare for backup.

Set up an account with a service like DropBox or an internet photo gallery before you leave so you can back up your photos and computer files on the road. It's peace of mind in the event your electronics are lost or stolen.

18. Home security.

Ask a friendly neighbor to keep an eye out for deliveries, and have your local post office hold your mail while you're gone. Have someone check on your place once a week and, if you rent, let your landlord know you'll be away.

19. Keep copies of documents on hand.

If something happens to your passport or wallet, you'll need all of your identifying information. Use your phone's camera to take a photo of the important passport pages (personal information and visa) and photo ID so you will have it on hand in an emergency.

For extra reassurance, pack color photocopies of all your important documents in your suitcase.

20. Consider a tour or local guide.

No matter whether you're on a private walking tour or a multi-day group tour, all guides have one thing in common: They want to keep you safe. If nothing else, they have a reputation to uphold.

As a traveler, you may not be aware of local scam artist routines, speak the local language, or know which neighborhoods are safe after dark. A local will know that and more.

Working with a local guide can ensure your “memorable experience” is a good one.

TIP: We have had good experiences with Get Your Guide, a reputable source for booking a wide variety of local tours, attractions and activities. FIND TOURS HERE

More travel tips

For more travel inspiration, look for shots of your destination on our photo site.

Other travel tips on As We Saw It include:

Find our favorite travel gear in our Amazon shop.

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There are a lot of things to do when you prepare for travel abroad. Begin with this list of 17 essentials as soon as you know you're leaving.

Please share this story with your friends.

Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages has inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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