12 Things to do Before Booking an International Trip
The best trips are guided by the heart. ~nmb
I’m not a planner by nature. Honestly, I feel the best trips are loosely planned. It allows for you to follow your heart, let your intuition guide you and the energy of the place you're visiting take over. Some of my best travel memories are from the unplanned part of my journey.
12 Things to do Before Booking an International Trip
1. Get Your Passport.
Well, duh! But I had to share it. You can’t leave or return to the country without it. If you already have one, make sure it’s not close to expiration. (Certain countries won’t let you in or leave if it’s within 6-12 months of expiration.) In my personal opinion, you should always have a valid unexpired US passport (or valid passport in your home country).
2. Do You Need a Tourist Visa?
Some countries require a tourist visa before entry, for many countries, if you are traveling 90 days or less you receive your tourist visa on the plane prior to entering the country. It's always good to know ahead of time.
Please plan ahead and check to see if you need a tourist visa to travel to your desired country here. You will enter in the country/countries to which you are traveling and check each country to see what type of visa is required and find other "need to know" information. If you need a visa, you need to allow extra time before booking your trip.
You can also Google it, but I personally trust the US Government website over other websites.
3. Visit Travel.State.Gov to Learn About the Destination.
Travel.State.Gov (USA) has a plethora of information about any and all countries in the world, travel restrictions, precautions, and more. Before traveling, check to see if there are any travel restrictions.
Don’t freak out if you see a lot of reports or warnings about what's going on in the country. Just be aware of what's going on so you can travel smart. If it says NOT to travel to certain areas, LISTEN, it’s for your own safety.
Learn about where you are traveling here.
4. Choose Your Dates and Preferred Flight Times.
When are you going to travel? Yes, this is common sense and usually what people do first, but if you don’t have your passport, or if it’s close to expiration or you need a visa, this may affect your travel dates. Those things take time to process.
I’ve had both a passport that was close to expiration and a need for a visa (Vietnam), which changed my personal travel dates and plans, so I always complete those steps first.
Check the weather in you destination country to see if it's a good time to travel there. Seasons are different in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere and some countries have unpleasant wet and rainy seasons. There can be good reasons for peak travel seasons in certain countries, so look into it and make the best plan for your desired activities. Also, during certain country holidays you may need to book flights and lodging further in advance.
5. Watch Your Flights.
Kayak.com and Google Flights are my go to search engines when looking for flights. You can set up flight alerts for certain dates, connections, and prices. It’s helpful, especially if you're trying to stay within a certain budget. (Sometimes I actually choose destinations depending on estimated flight prices, so that’s an option to consider for a trip, too.)
I prefer non-stop or one stop flights and shorter layover times, so I usually start with an airfare search engine then buy the actual plane ticket from the airline's website. I also aim to book flights on Tuesdays when prices tend to be lower. (Not sure if that is always accurate, but it’s worked for me before!)
6. Book Your Flight. Get Travel Insurance.
When you book your international flight, you’ll have an option to purchase the offered travel insurance. This is up to you, I usually get it, but it also depends on my travel location.
When booking your flight, make sure to put in an emergency contact that is NOT traveling with you and email your itinerary to a trusted friend or family member who is also NOT traveling with you.
It's a good idea to check with your medical insurance company to see if you're covered outside of the United States (or your home country). If your medical insurance does not cover you outside of your home country, I recommend looking into travel medical insurance for the duration of your stay. It’s a small investment in case something happens abroad, but good to have.
7. Enroll in STEP - Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
For safety, especially when traveling alone, I always recommend registering with the US Embassy. That way, if anything happens, they know where you are (country), your passport information, and can help you get home safely. It’s free to sign up. It’s also fun to go back and look at all of the places you've traveled once you’ve been using it awhile.
Enroll here: STEP: Smart Traveller Enrollment Program
8. Photocopy Your Passport.
Take at least three photocopies of your passport. Keep one in your suitcase, give one to a trusted friend or family member staying home, keep one at home and email yourself and/or a trusted family member a copy. At least one trusted person should have a copy of your passport information and your travel information.
9. Get Educated! Language Guides and Travel Books.
Some people love having travel guides, language dictionaries or travel books with them. I love having a small language guide with me for non-English speaking countries, both for communication and connection. You can even get a kindle or ebook version and keep it on your phone for reference.
My favorites are usually Lonely Planet. I like their language books and travel books. I also use the Google Translate app on my iPhone for language translation.
10. Find Transportation and Lodging Prior to Arrival.
As I shared, I’m not a huge planner and I love to follow my heart, but I do look for lodging for at least my first night in a new country. Usually they can help you find or recommend reliable transportation from the airport to their place.
When traveling, I usually stay at an Airbnb (click here to save $40 on your first stay*) or Booking.com. Sometimes I'll book one or two nights for when I arrive and then go with the flow along the way, but those two are usually my go to for places to stay. Once in a place, if not during busy tourist season, you can usually find vacancies by walking around and stay at places that might not have a website to create an even more local experience. (*If you are a new user to Airbnb, I might receive a small Airbnb credit for you using my referral link which helps me share more about travel while on the road.)
It’s very helpful in a new country where you don’t speak the language to arrange this beforehand. You can also go to Tripadvisor.com and ask others for recommendations in specific countries. Some countries are safer than others, trust your judgment.
11. Look into Vaccinations and Country Health Concerns.
Check with your doctor, travel nurse or natural health professional to see if there are any required vaccinations or local health issues that might affect you. It's important to be aware as it's a pain getting sick in another country, but some countries also require foreigners to have certain vaccinations. If you are pregnant or wanting to get pregnant, it's also important to let your doctor know that you plan to travel and where.
The best website for information on this is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under Traveler's Health.
You can also look at this page under the quick facts, it will tell you what vaccinations are needed or recommended.
12. Money Exchange and Traveling with Credit Cards
Money, you will need it when traveling! I usually exchange money (American dollars) in the country I am traveling to. Certain countries are more cash based than credit based, so you will want to plan ahead and determine how much cash you want to bring with and what you want to take out (ATM) when you get there.
Please check with your personal bank(s) before traveling to see what features your debit card and/or credit card have for traveling. ALWAYS let your bank(s) know where you will be traveling so your card is not blocked and reported as credit card fraud (and also to protect you from credit card fraud). Some banks charge international transaction fees along with ATM fees, so to avoid unnecessary fees, look into this.
The airport currency exchange is a huge ripoff (in my own opinion). If you do need to exchange money at the airport, exchange enough to get you by (for the taxi, transportation from the airport, food and lodging for the first couple of days) until you can find a safe ATM to withdraw money in the local currency or a bank that can exchange your money into the local currency.
I also recommend downloading a currency exchange app to your phone before you leave the United States (or your home country) so you have an idea of the exchange rate and what your money is worth in the new country. I use the XE Currency Exchange app on my iPhone.
Are You Ready to Travel?
These are just some of my recommended basic tips to follow before heading out on an international trip.
If you’re a first-time international traveler, feel overwhelmed by traveling outside of your home country, haven't traveled in a while and/or are a solo traveler, it’s good to have a plan and a little checklist to get you started off on your journey with confidence.
Like, I shared, I am NOT a huge planner, but I do follow these steps before I go on any trip and keep safety as one of my main priorities.
What Would You Add to This List?
If you have anything to add to this list of "what to do before you travel internationally" or any questions, please leave a comment below or send me a message!
Where are you Headed Next?
Do you have dream trip planned, working on your bucket list or just have a desire to plan a trip to somewhere new? Please share below and let me know where you're going or what's on your bucket list!
If you've been wanting to do it, do it. The best time to take a trip is always in the present. Create your unique plan and go.