There we were, sitting at a table at an adorable outdoor cafe in Paris. The sun was shining as we sipped our wine. It was a perfect day. Until it wasn’t.
My friend reached to grab her bag from next to her feet and it was gone, along with her passport, camera, and wallet.
I had heard that this type of thing could happen. But, not to me and my travel buddies! There’s no way that someone could steal a bag right from under our noses.
After spending hours reporting the theft and then working with the Consulate to get a replacement passport, we had little time left to enjoy Paris. If only we had done a few simple things before we left, this all would’ve been much easier (and faster) to resolve.
Many of us spend hours carefully planning the clothes that we’ll pack, but give little thought to planning for the unexpected.
These 15 essential things to do before traveling internationally can give you the confidence to handle whatever misadventures come your way.
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1 | Notify your credit cards & check international rates and fees.
Today, it’s rare to even carry cash which is why it’s so important to notify your credit and debit card companies you’ll be using them out of the country. Why bother? Unusual activity on your credit card, such as purchases in other countries, is a surefire way to get your account locked.
Years ago, notifying your credit card company of your travel plans required a phone call. But today, many companies allow you to do this via their website or an app.
While you’re doing that, check to see what international fees each card charges. Some charge a flat rate for every single transaction, some charge a percentage of the transaction and others are completely fee-free. Choosing which card you use based on international fees and exchange rates can save you hundreds of dollars in a single trip!
2 | Make sure you have some cash.
The best exchange rate is almost always at an ATM machine in your destination, unless you’re at the airport. However, that doesn’t mean you should leave without any cash in your wallet as an extra insurance policy.
I’ve experienced all sorts of issues getting cash in my destination. The most common is ATM’s not working! For instance, on the drive to Wadi Musa (near Petra) in Jordan, we stopped to get cash at the only ATM we had seen for miles. Half of us couldn’t get our cards to work! I was so thankful to have cash that I could exchange once we arrived in Wadi Musa.
Remember, that much of the world does not have consistent and reliable access to electronic payments. Bringing cash with you at least allows you the ability to exchange or barter if needed!
Pro Tip: Do some research online to gauge how common electronic payments are in your destination. I often post questions like this to travel related Facebook groups!
3 | Pay your bills!
Before you run out the door on your next adventure, don’t forget to pay your bills or setup an autopayment. This is one of those things to do before traveling abroad that can be easy to forget.
4 | Check your cell phone coverage in all of your destinations.
When I travel, especially if I’m solo, knowing I have cell phone coverage or access to wifi gives me confidence to handle whatever unexpected things get thrown my way. Before traveling, check with your cell phone carrier to see if you will have coverage under your current plan and, if so, what the charges are for both data and phone calls.
If the coverage is limited or too expensive, consider two alternatives.
First, if your phone uses a SIM card, you can usually purchase one locally when you arrive at your destination. This will give you access to the local cell phone networks at a more affordable price.
Second, rent or purchase a portable wifi hotspot device to carry with you. Notes that this only works if you’re in an area with 3G and 4G data networks for the device to connect to. So, this isn’t a great option for remote destinations!
Pro Tip: Portable wifi devices are available through companies such as Solis (previously Skyroam). They offer global unlimited day passes, monthly plans and per gigabytes plans.
5 | Download essential resources for translation and navigation.
Google Translate is seriously the most amazing app! When I went to Nicaragua solo, I knew my basic Spanish skills weren’t going to be enough to get around. So, I downloaded Spanish in Google Translate so I’d have it available whether or not I had data on my phone.
My favorite feature? Set the language you want to translate to and from, turn on the camera in the app, and it will translate whatever you point your camera at!
While I’m talking about how amazing Google is, did you know you can also download offline versions of Google Maps? Amazing, right? I downloaded these when I was in Alaska so I could navigate my way around even when I didn’t have cell phone service.
6 | Make sure someone knows your itinerary.
You should never head out into the wilderness without letting someone know what trail you’re going to be on. Making sure someone knows your travel itinerary is the same idea.
For those that are thinking “but I don’t even know my own itinerary.” I get it, not everyone plans in detail. Still, make sure someone knows at least where you’ll be and when. If you don’t know where or when you’re moving on to the next destination, it’s all the more important to pay attention to #4 so you can check in regularly.
My adventurous travel can sometimes stress my parents out. One thing I do to put them at ease and to keep myself organized, is create a one-page travel itinerary for every trip. This one-pager includes:
- Flight numbers, times and dates
- Phone number, address and name of everywhere I’m staying (if I’ve pre-booked accommodations)
- Tour company name and phone number
- Travel companion name(s) and phone number(s)
Print 2-3 copies of this, save it to Google Drive and hide them in your luggage.
When I landed alone late at night in Hanoi, the transportation I had pre-booked to my hotel didn’t show up. I was tired and didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, I had my itinerary with the phone number of the hotel. I asked a very kind stranger if I could use their phone. The situation was sorted out in about 5 minutes. Had I not had the hotel contact info handy, my journey to Club Bed would’ve been much longer.
7 | Have your travel insurance info easily accessible, not just electronically.
What good is travel insurance if you don’t have the info handy when you need it? Be sure you have your travel insurance contact info available in both paper and electronic form. Why?
What if your phone and/ or laptop are stolen? What if your phone isn’t working or there isn’t wifi where you’re at? I realize these are unlikely scenarios, but they’re not unheard of. Why make an already stressful situation even more stressful?
For electronic access, consider creating a folder in Google Drive or Dropbox. For hard copies, bring a couple of copies and hide them in your bags making sure that one is always with you. That way if one bag gets stolen or lost you still have the info with you.
Pro Tip: Most travel insurance companies email you a document with an insurance card in it. Print a few copies, cut them out and then cover them in clear packing tape. It feels just like a credit card and fits easily in your wallet!
8 | Know who to contact in your destination(s) in the event of an emergency.
Knowing who to call in the event of an emergency, is one of the most essential things to do before traveling to another country. Before you leave, make note of the following important numbers for each of your destinations:
- Embassy or consulate phone number, address and hours of operation.
- Emergency number (equivalent to 911 in the US or 999 in England)
- Credit and debit card cancellation phone numbers
Pro Tip: For US travelers, sign up for the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) for each destination you travel to. This allows you to receive up to date information directly from the US Embassy.
For each destination, check to see what the country code is and know how to dial it.
Most credit and debit cards have a toll-free international number on the back where you can report a card lost or stolen. Some cards now allow you to report a lost or stolen card via an app or their website, but you will need access to wifi or data to do so.
Pro Tip: Write all of this information on your travel insurance printouts mentioned in #7 before you cover it in tape. All your emergency info will be in one place!
9 | Check the expiration date on your passport and driver’s license.
Don’t wait until the last minute to find out your passport is about to expire! Did you know that some countries won’t allow you to enter or board your flight if you don’t have at least 6 months before your passport expires?
Make sure you have at least 6 months remaining on your passport from the date you will be returning from your trip! If you’re cutting it close, check with the organization that issues your passport to see what the rules are for all of your destination countries.
The same applies to your driver’s license if you intend to rent a car, scooter, motorcycle or other vehicle. Find out if your destination country requires an International Driver’s License or if your home country’s driver’s license will be sufficient.
10| Have photocopies of your passport and visas available.
Let’s hope you don’t have get separated from your passport while you’re traveling, but if you do this is one thing that will make getting a new one much easier (and faster)!
Make two or three photocopies of the photo page and any relevant visas from your passport. Hide these in your different pieces of luggage so that you’ll always have one accessible.
Pro Tip: Save a scanned copy of your passport electronically in your email, Google Drive, Dropbox or other cloud storage.
11 | Backup your laptop and phone.
Do you have years of photos and videos stored on your laptop or phone? Would you be devastated if either was gone forever? Then back ‘em up!
There are a lot of options you can use to back your devices up. The most common are icloud, Dropbox, and external hard drives. // Buy a portable external hard drive now!
Pro Tip: If you take a lot of photos or videos while you travel, consider bringing a portable external hard drive to back them up on the road. Be sure to store them separately so if one gets lost or stolen, you likely have the other version available.
12 | Clear off your memory cards.
Imagine finally being on your dream African safari and a lion with its cubs emerges from the tall grass. It’s your first sighting of these incredible creatures. You pick up your camera to capture this perfect moment and “Error – Memory card full” appears on the screen. Devastating! Don’t let this be you. Clear your memory cards or purchase new before you go! // Buy a camera memory card now!
13 | Find out if vaccinations are required.
This is probably one of the least fun but essential things to do before traveling internationally!
When I travelled to Tanzania, I technically didn’t need a yellow fever vaccine. However, my flight routed through Nairobi, in Kenya, and Kenya is on the list of countries with risk of yellow fever transmission. As long as I wasn’t at the airport for longer than 12 hours, I didn’t need the certificate to enter Tanzania. But, if my flight was delayed and I stayed past the 12 hours, technically I could’ve been denied entry to Tanzania. So, I decided to get the vaccine. There was no way I was going to travel all that way and risk being sent home.
There are very few situations where a vaccine is truly required and enforced. But it’s always a good idea to research what vaccines are recommended in your destinations or consulting with a travel medicine clinic for advice.
Pro Tip: Even if you’re careful about what you eat and drink when traveling, you can still get hit by Traveler’s Diarrhea. It’s miserable, and over the counter meds don’t always do the trick. I always get a prescription for antibiotics (such as azithromycin) before traveling abroad, especially in more remote destinations. Over the counter anti-diarrheal medicine (such as Imodium) can help manage the symptoms while the antibiotics treat the bacteria causing the symptoms. // Stock up on Imodium now!
14 | Refill your prescriptions and first aid kit.
Many countries will have basic over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Unless you regularly need to take OTC meds or have a preference for a specific brand, you can likely find what you need in your destination. But, if you rely on prescriptions, be sure to get them refilled before you depart.
Always travel with prescription meds in the original clearly marked container. Also, make sure that the name on the prescription matches the name on your passport. If you roll through TSA looking like a drug dealer with a plastic bag full of random pills, expect to do some explaining and have it confiscated.
Do you have a first aid kit that you always throw in your bag? Have you picked through it and used half of the supplies but never repenished it? I know I’m guilty of this. Before you takeoff, check your first aid kit and top off any supplies that you’ve used! // Grab an affordable lightweight first aid kit now!
15 | Make sure your home is safe and secure.
Whether you rent an apartment or own a home, the last thing you want after an amazing trip is to come home to a water leak or a break-in.
Here are four things you can do to make sure your home is safe and sound.
- Ask the postal service to hold your mail. In the US, you can do this easily online through USPS.com.
- Shutoff the main water valve to your home if possible. You can’t have a water leak if it’s not turned on!
- Save energy by turning down the water heater, heat and air conditioning.
- Give yourself peace of mind by having a friend or family member check on your place while you’re gone.
Only the essentials on this list of things to do before traveling abroad!
Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by long lists of things to do before traveling abroad! This list is meant to be only the essentials so that you can travel stress-free knowing you’re ready for the unexpected.