10 Things I Always Do Before Every International Trip
As I was writing out one of the million lists I make each time I travel – packing lists, flight options, lists of hotels, attractions, budgets, etc. – I realized that there were steps in my prep that have become second nature to me, but may not be for you.
I’m a big data geek, and for me, pre-trip planning lists and spreadsheets helps calm any travel nerves. My list of pre-trip preparation may seem like overkill but I always prefer to be extra prepared for what’s coming at me.
Check Visas and Passport Expiry
I’m not talking about your credit card balance here. If all of your travel so far has been to the States or to resorts down South, you probably haven’t given much thought to travel visas. The Canadian government keeps a list of entry requirements for all countries. Before you book your ticket, know whether you’ll need to apply for a visa beforehand.
Now, for your passport. A lot of countries will require your passport to be valid for a number of months after your arrive. For example, Nicaragua will require that my passport be valid for six months after my expected date of departure. I haven’t heard of a longer period so if your passport is getting close to expiring, renew it now.
While you’re checking the expiry date, make a photocopy of your passport ID page and pack it in your carryon. If you have access to a copier once you land, also make a copy of the page containing your landing stamp.
Notify Credit Card Companies
It can really put a damper on your trip when you try to pay for dinner only to discover that your credit card doesn’t work. To minimize the chance of this happening, be sure to contact your credit card companies and let them know that you’ll be travelling and to expect charges from outside the country. Some companies will allow you to do this online, others will need you to call them.
Register With the Government
Before I travel internationally, I always fill out the online form to register with the Canadian government. On the off chance that any shit goes down while I’m away, they’ll know that I’m in the country and how to contact me. I actually had a few advisories emailed to me while I was in South Korea in 2012 because of this (the North was getting uppity at the time). Better safe than sorry, right?
Check Up on Vaccines
It’s always a good idea to read up on what vaccines might be recommended for your intended destination. Before I went to Costa Rica for the first time I made a visit to my local travel clinic for a consult. Not only can they shoot you up full of Twinrix and tetanus, but the nurses will also know what other medical things to look out for. Turns out there’s malaria in Leon, Nicaragua. I had no idea.
Consider an International Driving Permit
Do you plan to rent a car on your international trip? Then you may need an international driver’s license. In a lot of cases, your Canadian license will be fine but I was turned away from renting a scooter in Jeju, South Korea for lack of an international permit. It’s good for a year so if it’s been awhile since you had one, you’ll need to drop by your local CAA office and get a new one.
Book Your First Night’s Hotel Stay
I’m definitely the type to plan my trips and pre-book my hotel rooms. But if you’re more of the wing-it/spontaneous traveller, you’ll want to at least book your first night’s stay before you go. Immigration will want a local address and if you can’t come up with one, you may be in for a hard time. Plus, it’s just one less thing you have to worry about when arriving in a new country. Be sure to write the name and address on a piece of paper and keep it in your carry-on. Don’t rely on there being wifi after you land for you to look it up.
Learn Transit Options
I always want to know the best way to get to my hotel from the airport once I land. I hate wasting money on a taxi if it turns out there was a train. I weigh convenience with price to make my decision. Airport websites will usually have the information for you. I also like knowing where in the airport terminal to find the bus stops, taxi stands, shuttle services, etc. That moment when I pick up my suitcase from the baggage carousel is my moment of truth, when I’m on my own, and knowing where I’m going next and how I’m getting there gives me confidence in facing a new country.
I may not be able to get currency like Costa Rican colones or Croatian kuna at my local bank but I can get US dollars and they’re accepted in a lot of places. If there’s an ATM, you can often use your bank card to withdraw local currency but I always like having a small stash of USD on me when I travel.
Scope Out SIM Cards
I used to be a wifi only kind of traveller, until I discovered how nice and convenient it is to have data access when I travel. I like it for maps mostly, but being able to quickly message friends at home helps when travelling solo. If I’m headed to the States I top up my Roam Mobility account and away I go. For other countries, I do some Google searching to find out the best local company and what I can expect for prices and ease of activation.
Get Travel Insurance
You may be thinking, “I’m not going anywhere scary. I don’t need extra insurance.” But let me tell you, you never know what can happen. This past summer I was spending a few days in nice, first world New York City doing something as routine as taking the subway when I tripped on a stair and wound up having to get four stitches in my toe. You don’t have to be planning adventurous activities to need insurance. Double check what coverage you may currently have through work or with your credit cards and decide if you need a top up. Always be sure that you know before you go, what you’re covered for and how to use the insurance if you need it. Write the contact info, policy number, etc. on your passport photocopy so that you’ll have it with you.
So there you have it. My terribly practical list of the things I think about before any international trip. New places can make me nervous and I feel better when I know that I’ve crossed my Ts, dotted my Is, and armed myself with knowledge.