Planning well is the key to a smooth travel experience. Even if a travel agent, tour company, or cruise line will be planning the mechanics of your trip, there are some steps that you need to take to prepare. You may feel overwhelmed and unsure where to begin, but if you start with these tasks, you’ll have the most important bases covered.

Arrange Your Documents

Image via Flickr by seantoyer
Image via Flickr by seantoyer

Even if you feel sure that your passport is safely in your sock drawer, it’s a good idea to hold it in your hand and check the expiration date well in advance of your trip. Check the visa requirements of all the countries you’ll be visiting — most require that your passport is valid for six months from the date of entry, and some require two blank facing pages for their entry stamps. While you’re looking at visa requirements, note whether you will be able to get the visa on arrival or if you’ll need to apply at the embassy or online before your trip.

Research the Risks

International travel is much safer than many people think, but it’s still wise to be familiar with any local dangers, typical scams, or health issues before you leave home. Travel.state.gov is a great resource that will fill you in on everything from political unrest to typical cons you might encounter. The site is pretty thorough about detailing all the dangers of any given location, so don’t let it frighten you. Remember that thousands of people who take sensible precautions travel safely every day.

Stop by the CDC.gov/travel website for health information too. The CDC will tell you what immunizations are recommended, whether you can drink the tap water, and what other health risks you should be aware of. While you’re thinking about your health, make a list of medications to pack.

Call Your Banks

International travelers used to buy traveler’s checks for security and order foreign currency from their bank for convenience. Things today are much simpler; you can use your credit cards almost anywhere and your debit card lets you access local currency from any ATM. However, if you don’t notify your bank of your travel plans, they’ll probably lock down your card for fraud protection the first time you use it overseas. Many banks and credit cards let you enter your travel plans on their website, or you can call the phone number on the back of your card instead.

Make sure that you have at least two options for accessing cash (a debit card and/or a credit card with a PIN). Snap photos of each of your cards and the ID page of your passport, and e-mail them to yourself for backup in case they get lost or stolen.

Purchase Travel Insurance

A comprehensive travel insurance plan will give you tremendous peace of mind while traveling. A great travel insurance plan gives you a toll-free number to call for a referral to an English-speaking doctor or hospital wherever you are, or help you find a way home if necessary and cover the costs. Your policy will also cover your medical expenses and canceled flights if you get sick and will reimburse you for a stolen cell phone or lost luggage.

Figure Out Your Calling Plan

Will you be able to make calls and receive texts while you’re abroad without incurring roaming charges? You’ll need to make sure that your calling plan is international-friendly. If you have a solid, versatile service such as the unlimited data plan from T-Mobile or if you carry a T-Mobile International Calling Plan, you’ll be able to call home as well as call down the street in Paris for dinner reservations.

Your phone is not just a communication tool, of course. You can use your GPS anywhere in the world or download apps that will help you arrange ground transportation, translate languages, convert currency, and find great restaurants around the globe.

Taking these simple steps before you board the plane will help you stay safe, sane, and happy on your overseas adventure.

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