Preparing for International Travel

Preparing for international travel can be overwhelming at times:   So much to figure out, so many things to buy, so much anxiety to overcome.  Although travel is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself it comes with its own unique challenges.  The first time I left the country I threw up in my hotel room, and this wasn’t even the most difficult journey I had to prepare for. Over the years I have built up a standard check list of things I do before traveling somewhere and they are as follows:

  1. Check the CDC website for needed vaccinations. For example when I went to Tanzania, yellow fever vaccinations were needed to enter the country, a fact my traveling companion learned to his detriment.  Luckily, he was able to pay off some people and got a signature on his vaccinations card.  Don’t be like my friend, prepare in advance.  Some useful shots to have regardless of where you are traveling to are:  Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A, and Tetanus.
  2. Visas.   It is very important to know if you need one before entering the country or if you can buy one on arrival, or if you are traveling between countries how long will it take to get approval.  Depending on what part of the world you are traveling too it is a good idea to have a couple of extra passport sized photos on hand for visas in some countries.  
  3. Passport.  Clearly, make sure you have one.  It can take up to 90 days get a new one, less to renew.  If your passport expires 6 months before entering a new country you will need to renew.  Also, make sure you have plenty of passport pages, don’t end up sad and alone at an airport because you couldn’t get visa approval on your passport.  
  4. Figure out how to Dress.  For example dress for the weather.  Is it summer or winter where you are going, bearing in mind that seasons are different depending on where you are.  Summer in America is winter in Australia.  What’s the humidity like?  Is it monsoon season?  If you’re going to the mountains even during the summer, the nights on high peaks it can be freezing.  On Mt. Kilimanjaro I was sweating the whole time during the day and my teeth were chattering at night.  Also be aware of cultural and religious styles of dress.  You are a guest in a country, be respectful and dress appropriately.  Covering shoulders and legs while entering monasteries, churches, or temples is not too much to ask.  Use common sense.  If you don’t have common sense, google it.  
  5. Currency.  There are many things to consider when deciding how to pay for things overseas.  Number one being, should you switch banks?  Some banks offer no ATM fees, but not necessarily overseas.  Charlse Schwab seems to be the dream bank right now for American travelers.  If you can’t change banks, be aware you will have ATM fees and trust me when I say they add up.  If you want to go the old fashioned way you can bring travelers checks or just cash with your bank card as backup.  No matter how much cash you decide to keep on you make sure you store it in various places on your person and in your bag and keep your different forms of payment in different places from those.   
  6. Travel Insurance.  If you’re like me you hate the idea of travel insurance.  Hell, I hate the idea of being forced to have health insurance in America.  Unfortunately depending on where you are going or what you are doing, you are going to need it.  I needed it for my Kayak trip in Croatia and hiking Kilimanjaro and volunteering in Australia.  Basically, travel groups make you have it.  I didn’t buy it for Europe or when I hiked the Appalachian Trail or even have any insurance for much of my late twenties in America.  It’s relatively inexpensive you can find some companies with a quick google search. 
  7. First Aid Kit.  Most of the things you need you can buy overseas.  However, it’s cheaper in the US.  Buying moleskin was impossible overseas and antibiotic ointment while in Germany was ridiculously expensive.  So the things I recommend: moleskin (you will walk a lot overseas and blisters will happen) ibuprofen, Benadryl, Claritin, immodium, and Colace.  I can assure you, at one point you will either need either immodium or Colace or both on your travels.
  8. Voltage Converter if you’re a first time traveler different countries have different voltages and adapters.    
  9. Backup copies of schedule/tickets and passport.  Either online or physical copies make sure you or family/friends have a copy of all your information.  Letting family and friends have a copy of your itinerary will help them feel more comfortable about your safety.  Also, a copy of local numbers of embassies on the countries you will visit.  
  10. Deciding on how to record your travels.  With technology we have so many options.  You can be as high tech or low tech as you want.  The newest craze of course is the GoPro, being able to record your travels with a piece of equipment that is nearly indestructible is pretty cool.  If you’re not an avid enthusiast of extreme sports they have cameras that easier to use and also highly indestructible.  For much of my traveling I have just used the phone on my camera.  For Southeast Asia I have decided to try a GoPro so an update will occur.  If you want to go by way of the ultimate low tech, a written travel journal has always served me just fine.  A picture may be worth a 1000 words, but my words remind me of the emotion of the moment.  

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