Summer is upon us and soon, millions of Americans will be getting ready for their well-deserved vacations. The main purpose of a vacation is to “get away from it all,” and no one wants any added stress while they’re away from home. This is especially true on an international trip, when there are even more things to worry about. The key is to be prepared. Here are some tips that will help make your holiday a little less hectic!
1. Get all your paperwork in order. Is your passport current? Depending on your destination, it might need to be valid for up to six months and/or have a certain number of blank pages. Check the U.S. Department of State website to find information about passport and visa requirements, as well as any current travel warnings. On the site you can register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service provided by the U.S. government that helps citizens traveling abroad in the event of an emergency. Just think how helpful this would’ve been after the recent disasters in Japan or following the conflicts in North Africa. Another good tip is to make two photocopies of the first page of your passport (and the visa page if applicable.) Carry your passport in a safe place (such as a money belt), then leave one copy at home with loved ones and put another copy in your baggage. Having these photocopies will help speed up the process if your passport is lost or stolen.
2. Be prepared for medical issues. Does your international travel require any inoculations against diseases? Check out the Centers for Disease Control website and click on the countries you will be visiting. This site is also a good source for preventative measures to avoid catching diseases while traveling. Remember, if you take prescription medications, always carry them with you onboard the plane. You should never pack critical meds in your checked baggage, in case they are lost or stolen. The best advice is to keep the drugs in their original containers and, if possible, bring copies of your prescription and the generic names with you. As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s also smart to bring a small first aid kit along with you and some common over-the-counter medications like antacids, Tylenol and cold medicine. (Believe me, you don’t want to have to pantomime diarrhea to a pharmacist who doesn’t speak your language!)
3. Buy travel insurance. Having travel insurance is one of those things you might not think about… until you wish that you had it. Last year I learned the hard way when my budget flight from Rome to Istanbul was moved up by an hour (and no one told me.) After spending hours at the airport, I ended up having to buy a same-day flight on another airline, at 5x the original cost! Believe me, I’ll never travel internationally without insurance again. Having worldwide travel insurance is not just good for cancelled or delayed flights though. It can cover the costs of unexpected medical expenses, lost or stolen luggage (or other personal belongings including passports and money) and even repatriation costs in the event of an emergency. Also, damage that you may cause to third parties is also covered in many cases. With all these potential expenses, it’s easy to see why a comprehensive travel insurance policy is highly recommended.
4. Pack smart. Before you pack your suitcase, lay everything out and remove anything you don’t truly need. Be sure to pack clothing that’s neutral and easily coordinated too. It’s ok to wear certain items more than once—you don’t need a new pair of pants everyday! Also, by using airtight compression bags like Pack-Mates, you’ll be able to fit much more in your suitcase. Basically, they’re like giant Ziploc bags, only they have one-way valves on the bottom. You place your folded clothing inside, zip it shut, and then slowly roll it up, forcing the air out. When you unroll the bag, it’s flat and virtually half the thickness of when you started. They really help keep you organized and make packing much more efficient.
5. Know your airplane. Most online reservation systems tell you the exact model of the plane you’ll be traveling on. With a little research on sites like SeatGuru, you can find out what the best (and the worst) seats are. Then, go back to where you purchased your ticket and select the best available seat in your class. While the window seat is nice since you can rest your head and have a view, the aisle is better if you want to stretch your legs or access the overhead bin or restroom more frequently.
6. Ask for a room with a view. When you check in to your hotel, you’d be surprised that just asking for a “better” room often works. If you want a room with a view, or one that’s far from the elevator or a quieter garden room, it might be available to you at no extra charge. It never hurts to ask! Also, be sure to grab a business card from your hotel when you check in and put the card in your wallet. If you ever you get lost (or drunk), you can just show the card to a cab driver and he should know exactly where your hotel is. If you’re in a foreign country, you can ask the concierge to write directions in the local language for you too.
7. Have a realistic itinerary and allow for down time. Don’t overdo it. Just as you wouldn’t want to arrive somewhere and have no idea what to do, you shouldn’t try to cram an unreasonable amount of activities into your schedule. Map out your activities in advance, but always allow for time during the day to rest. This works well for longer trips too. Go to a museum one day, but lay out by the hotel pool on another. You should give your body time to acclimate to any time zone differences as well.
So are you planning to take any trips this summer? Do you have any tips to add to this list? Tell me about them in the comments section below!
Michael Figueiredo is a freelance travel writer based in Los Angeles, California. When he’s not gallivanting around the world, he’s enjoying the laid-back lifestyle and perfect weather of Southern California. So far he’s visited forty countries and territories on five continents. His goal is to see at least one new country every year! . Read more from this author