Traveling to a new place can be exciting, refreshing and very enriching. New cultures, new foods, new ways of life, all of these things come into play when you step outside of your home country. Some of our favorite travel memories are lounging in a smoke-filled “coffee shop” in Amsterdam, zip-lining through a Mexican jungle, and taste-testing all kinds of waffles and chocolates in Belgium. For many people, these moments are a welcome pastime or adventure but even the most exotic location can turn into a stress-riddled vacation if you don’t take the time to prepare in advance. Whether your next trip is leisure or for business, here are five of our international travel tips to make your travels easier:
1. Travel Insurance
Get it. This added protection is simply too cheap for you not to purchase before traveling abroad! Most of us are fortunate enough to have comprehensive health care coverage through our jobs, or are able to pay for it ourselves. This is great when you’re at home but what about when you’re on foreign soil and you fall ill? No one wants to get sick or hurt on vacation, but the fact is that it happens. You may eat a meal that doesn’t sit well or injure yourself on an excursion. In either case, the last things you want to have to worry about are medical bills and navigating a foreign health care system that may or may not treat you without payment. When you purchase travel insurance ahead of time you have the peace of mind knowing you’re covered in case of an emergency. We used to buy ours through a travel agent, but for our trip this weekend Cheril decided to purchase a policy directly from the insurer (GeoBlue | International Travel Health Insurance). Its million dollar coverage for a measly $15 fee is a no-brainer and more coverage than we’ve ever gotten anywhere else. So, even if you need to be airlifted somewhere, we think a million dollars will cover the cost! Get travel insurance before you go, but be sure to make sure it covers everything you need. If you’re going to be traveling with expensive valuables, you may want to tack on a little extra coverage from somewhere else. Note: We don’t buy travel insurance for domestic vacations.
This is one that we’ve just started to make a habit. It doesn’t take much time and can be the American/Canadian/wherever you’re from lifeline you may need in an urgent situation overseas. Simply Google your destination + “US embassy/consulate” and make a note of the address and phone number. Keep this information in a hard-copy travel folder as well as in electronic format.
3. Keep hard copies of your itinerary, including pre-paid tickets to museums, etc.
We live in a digital world, most of us, but we (Cheril really, Monica hates the details of travel planning) always keeps everything organized in a manila folder in the event we can’t get cell service or are simply stuck with dead cell phones. Make it a habit to keep copies of all of this stuff because you never know when you might need it. Cheril has all of our trips organized in folders and in each one everything is broken down and named accordingly (AIR-[date]-[passenger], RAIL, BUS, TICKETS, etc.) so it’s easy to follow even in the digital format when sorted alphabetically. Cheril’s super anal about this, but it works! lol
4. Electrical outlets and converters
Speaking of keeping electronics charged. We also look ahead of time to see if the country to which we are traveling uses the same kind of outlets we do. If not, we buy converters ahead of time just in case we get stuck in a foreign airport and our phones die. They’re cheap and become a stress-reliever when you really do need them (you won’t have to go all over town looking for one if you bring it in the first place). The one below was purchased for our Europe trip last year. It worked great until we got to London. Oops. We didn’t realize they would have yet a different system but luckily we didn’t need our devices much and when we did, we were around Cheril’s family.
The one below is one we actually bought when we came home. Cheril fell in love with a lamp in Germany and it was cheaper to buy a $6 converter than to have an electrician swap it out so we could use it at home.
5. Cash is king (depending on where you are)
Not every country uses debit and credit cards regularly. While doing some last minute research for our trip to Turks and Caicos this weekend, we learned that T&C is such a country. From what we’ve read, it’s not because of lack of technology, but simply an unwillingness to pay the fees. We also learned that there aren’t that many ATMs on the island and lines at the bank can last an hour. So, we’ll plan accordingly. You never want to have too much cash and valuables on you wherever you are so we’ll have to play a balancing act as far as this is concerned.
Speaking of loot, if you’re going anywhere in Europe do yourself a favor and ask your bank or credit card company to issue you a card with a chip in it. Even though this has been common over there for some time now, American banks are slow to adopt it and move beyond the easily-compromised magnetic strip. Generally speaking, we aren’t fans of credit cards at all (been there, done that, got out of it with the help of Dave Ramsey), but sometimes it pays to have one on you for peace of mind. And that’s what we have one credit card with a $0 balance. Citibank was happy to send us a new card that would make shopping in Europe a breeze. The other plus is in the event of fraud (which just happened to both of us at HOME, it won’t tie up “real” funds in your day-to-day account [it took about a week to sort it out with the bank and during that time several hundred dollars were tied up — it was more of an inconvenience than anything but if you’re traveling on a budget this can make things critical]).
If you’re going to get cash in your destination, get it from an ATM if you can. The currency exchanges at airports usually charge hefty fees for conversions. If you’ve budgeted your trip ahead of time and paid in advance for as much as you can, you won’t need too much cash (unless you plan to visit a bunch of cash-only markets).
One last thing on cards, we have to say that our experience is that Capital One 360 debit is the best for international travel as they absorb the 2-3% fees charged by foreign merchants instead of passing it on to you. Yay for Capital One! Just be sure to let your bank or credit card company know that you’re going out of the country before you leave so they don’t freeze it under the suspicion of “unusual activity.”
That’s it for now. Spring and summer are coming, are you ready? Where are you going? Where do you want to go? Do you have travel tips to add?
Thanks for reading. Until next time…