5 Things You Must Do Before Traveling Internationally
Save yourself from getting sick, stranded, or bored stiff in a foreign land
BY RACHAEL SCHULTZ, JULY 28, 2014
When you’re venturing to another country—and another culture—there are a few non-negotiable aspects of globe-trotting: having a passport, bringing your visa, and carrying the local currency. But before you set foot on foreign soil, there are a few things you must cross off your checklist back home. Take care of these tasks now to ensure a safe, healthy, and fun trip abroad.
1. Buy short-term international medical insurance.
Just like renter’s insurance, traveler’s insurance seems unnecessary—until something goes wrong. Plans can include medical, trip cancellation, evacuation, and security insurance, but coverage varies from company to company, explains Bailey Richert, author of Prepare, Travel, Return. Secure medical first: Your regular health plan probably doesn’t include emergencies or services outside of the U.S., so it’s smart to purchase additional coverage no matter how short your vacation is.
And be aware: “Medical assistance may include helping to arrange medical care for you abroad, but it doesn’t mean they will cover your expenses,” Richert warns. If your regular insurance company offers add-ons for travel, that’s probably your cheapest option—but not all companies do. In that case, Richert recommends Seven Corners, a company that specializes in short-term travel medical plans.
2. Prep any medications.
Plan ahead for any meds you have to take daily: Pharmaceutical laws vary among countries, so it can be difficult to fill a prescription from your American physician abroad. Take enough to last your trip, but also ask your doctor for an extra supply in case of unexpected delays, says Julie Cassetina, senior public relations specialist for TripAdvisor. It’s also crucial that you keep all medicines in their original containers to avoid a hassle at customs. And carry a doctor’s note for each med that you can show to customs if necessary, she adds. If your health depends on it, have your doc write an additional prescription for you to take that includes both the brand and generic names, in case you lose your supply and need to fill it abroad, Richert suggests.
3. Avoid unnecessary card fees.
With the anti-fraud systems set up on credit cards today, your bank may flag a foreign transaction and put your card on hold, says Richert. Since unusable plastic can throw a serious wrench into your plans, call your bank and credit card company before you leave and review your itinerary. Also be sure to ask if they charge a foreign transaction fee, Cassetina suggests. Some credit card companies charge 3 percent interest on purchases made overseas, so you’ll want to know if you should stick to cash. And check which ATMs are free to use: Most foreign cash machines have a service fee up to $5, and even internationally friendly banks like Bank of America only waive the charges at specific foreign branches.
4. Set an emergency plan.
Consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP): The free government plan stores details of your itinerary, like where you’re staying, who’s traveling with you, and your U.S. emergency contact info. And while this may seem overkill compared to just leaving your in-laws with a copy of your flight details, STEP was a crucial part of the State Department’s ability to evacuate Americans after the Haitian Earthquake in 2010 because the government knew where travelers were, Richert points out. Plus, the program sends travel warnings and alerts for the countries you’re planning on visiting, to alert you to everything from riots to natural disasters to disease outbreaks.
5. Download guidebooks.
You probably don’t pack hardback books if you have an e-reader, so why lug around a heavy guide? Most of the standards, like Lonely Planet and Rick Steves, are available for digital download, and sites like TripAdvisor.com have apps so you can access their City Guides offline. But be sure to download everything you need before you leave, since Wi-Fi is never a guarantee while traveling. Consider printing a few pages, too: Flashing around your shiny, expensive tablet to look up that hole-in-the-wall restaurant probably isn’t the best idea in questionable neighborhoods. And if your tablet dies right before the B&B reveals it’s booked for the night? Keep a hard copy of the information you can’t get from welcome centers, like a backup hotel option and list of the best gelato shops.