15 Tips Americans Should Know Before Traveling Abroad

Make some travel memento boxes | © Geneva Vanderzeil/Flickr
Make some travel memento boxes | © Geneva Vanderzeil/Flickr
While every trip is bound to have its fair share of mishaps, traveling is best carried out when you’ve planned for it, especially if you’re headed outside the American border. Essential planning – such as hotels and restaurants – is an obvious requirement, but here are 15 additional tips to help make your next excursion a success.

Check the expiration date on your passport

While the U.S. allows citizens to use their passport up to the date listed inside, several countries do not allow travelers to enter if the passport expires in less than six months.

See if you need a visa

While not always a prerequisite, many nations require a tourist visa to enter, usually accompanied by a fee. Do your due diligence and check with the State Department if you’re unsure. And always leave ample time to apply and pay the fees before your departure.

Visit a travel doctor before you go

Some countries require certain vaccines to enter; it’s always smart to check with a doctor to be sure your shots are up-to-date. And consider grabbing extra medical coverage just in case you run into any problems abroad (such as eating from the wrong street vendor).

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Stock up on meds

Bring any necessary prescriptions, along with the essentials like Advil, NyQuil, Tums, Gravol, and Imodium. These aren’t always easy to find, especially in third-world countries. If you’re prone to getting sick, bring along an emergency antibiotic, like ciprofloxacin, just in case.

Look at travel warnings and advisories

While these aren’t always something to be concerned about, it’s usually a good idea to have a look before booking. This could save you hours of regret and lots of cash should you decide to cancel. If you like to play it safe, register your trip in the case of an emergency.

Make copies of your passport and other travel docs

Your passport could get stolen or lost; it’s best to have a copy on hand. For extra precaution, keep one at home with a friend or family member, or stored electronically in your email. Also, be sure to make a copy of any visas, ticket confirmations, credit cards, and hotel reservations.

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Bring cash with you

Using an ATM abroad will most likely mean steep fees in exchange for local currency. Avoid doing this by bringing money with you, or sign up with a bank that reimburses international fees, like Charles Schwab and Fidelity. Always be cautious of carrying too much money on your person; dividing it up among other travel companions, or in different pieces of luggage, is always a smart move.

But don’t forget your credit cards

While credit cards usually offer the best exchange rate, many of them charge a foreign transaction fee. Look into cards that don’t – Capital One and American Express Platinum – and ask about chip-embedded plastic. Most of Europe has switched over to the chip-and-PIN technology, so your card may be rejected at various locations. And always notify your bank of your travel dates to avoid being blocked.

Pack appropriately

And pack smart. If you’re headed somewhere where you will be removing your shoes often, pack a pair of slip-ons. If you know you’re going to a country where showing skin is forbidden, forget the strapless top and miniskirt.

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And pack light

There’s nothing worse than lugging around two suitcases through the streets of Amsterdam while trying to find your hotel. You’ll find this will save you in many situations, especially if you’re traveling to many different countries.

That means leaving the valuables at home

Think, people. As a tourist, you are already a target for theft, so minimize your risk by keeping grandma’s ring or that 15-carat gold necklace at home.

Grab necessary adapters

Electric outlets and currents differ for most countries. Grab a universal adapter and transformer, and always check the strength of the electrical current. Should you forget, this might be the instance when you blow a fuse in a foreign country.

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Use foreign airline sites to buy domestic tickets while abroad

If you’re going to travel within your destination country, or planning to do a multi-country tour, try booking a flight using local sites. The tickets are sometimes cheaper than on the relevant U.S. site. And with the help of Google Translate, getting through the payment process should be a breeze.

Learn key phrases

Basic prep for communicating with the locals is essential. And while learning ‘Hello,’ ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ are sure to be enough to survive your trip, reading up on the language will help in other matters, like health and safety (for example, if you have food allergies or take certain medications). Download a translation app to your phone, or bring a guidebook with you.

Be aware of cultural norms

Do your research. This includes knowing who to tip and how much, along with cultural traditions. The more you know about the country’s history and customs, the better off you will be.

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