Traveling internationally may be one of the best things you ever do. You can check the world’s greatest sights off your bucket list by seeing the Taj Mahal in 3D, touching Japan’s renowned cherry blossoms, and smelling the distinct aroma of freshly baked French croissants. These things are wonderful, but the true value of travel lies in its ability to fundamentally transform your understanding of the world, other people, and probably most importantly, yourself. By getting away from your routine and engaging in new activities in unfamiliar places, you can release old habits and find the empowerment needed to broaden your horizons and move in new directions.
Getting there is easier said than done. It can be overwhelming to worry about visas, buying costly plane tickets, and wondering how you’ll keep in touch with those back at home. It doesn’t have to be stressful. Here’s everything you need to know before you embark on your great adventure.
1. Passport and visa validity
Before you make any solid travel plans pull your passport out of the file cabinet and make sure it isn’t about to expire. Generally speaking, you’ll want your passport to be valid for at least six months after you enter a foreign country. Once you have your passport in order, do some research on travel visas. One of the most costly mistakes you can make is arriving at an international airport without the proper visa. Most people expect some sort of alert to come up when buying plane tickets, but the truth is you can book tickets to Vietnam — which requires you to obtain a visa in advance — without any mention of a necessary visa. Some countries, like Vietnam, expect you to apply for a visa in your home country months in advance, others require you to buy a visa on arrival, and others require nothing at all. Spend five minutes on the U.S. Department of State’s website and you’ll find everything you need to know.
2. Get your finances in order
Before you depart the U.S., call your bank and credit card companies to let them know you’re traveling internationally. If they expect you to be in Colorado and suddenly a charge comes up in Prague, they may shut off your accounts in order to protect you from fraud. It’s also a good idea to travel with cash (ideally local to your destination) so that when you land at the airport you can get a cab or hop on a train without hassle. Not every country is credit card friendly, so this precaution makes sure you aren’t stuck without any money and no way to get around. If you’re trying to cut costs, avoid withdrawing local currency from the airport’s ATMs as they typically have higher fees.
3. Make a communication plan
Before you hop on an airplane, you’ll need a plan for how you’re going to communicate and orientate yourself overseas. You can have your smartphone unlocked before you leave and buy a SIM card when you arrive or you can rely solely on Wi-Fi. The former is more expensive and potentially a bigger hassle upfront, while the latter is the least expensive route, but will require some additional planning. If you’re going to rely on Wi-Fi applications like WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype they will allow you to text, talk, and video chat anywhere you have a signal. If you’re using your phone as a map, you’ll need to find a Wi-Fi hot spot to get directions to that museum or look up a nearby pizza joint. As much as you may try to avoid McDonald’s and Starbucks, both chains offer patrons free Wi-Fi, which may end up being indispensable to you.
4. Keep your well being in mind
Before you book tickets check and see if the U.S. government has issued a travel warning for the country or part of the world you’re planning on visiting. Depending on where you’re headed, you may also want to register your trip with the U.S. Department of State. While you’re researching the overall safety of your destination, check and see if the country requires any vaccinations. For the best protection you should get any required shots six weeks before departure. Even if the country you’re visiting has no vaccination requirements, it still makes sense to pack a practical medical kit with the basics should you cut yourself or come down with a nasty flu.
5. Prepare for the worst
You never know what could happen so always make two copies of your passport, itinerary, visas, and credit cards. Leave one copy with someone at home who knows the details of your travel plans and keep the second one on you but store it in a separate place than the original documents. Precautions like this will save the day if anything gets lost or stolen.
6. Learn language basics
While English is a fairly commonly spoken language, some destinations will require you to know the basics (plus some serious gesturing) to get by. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to Paris or a remote village in Zimbabwe, part of travel is putting in the effort to learn the basics of the language. By being able to say hello, please, thank you, and some other simple phrases, you will show that while you’re nowhere near fluent, you’re making the effort.
7. Get an adapter
Electrical outlets are different all over the world, so if you want to recharge your phone or camera, you’ll need to make sure that you have the proper adapter. Make it easy on yourself by buying an adapter with multiple settings that can work with various outlets. This will make packing easier and you won’t have to worry about buying a new adapter next time you travel. Keep an eye on your voltage needs as well, as you may need to buy a transformer so you don’t blow your electronics with a change in currents.