6 Important Pre-Travel Tips
Traveling can be a fun and exciting experience, especially when the journey is about to begin with a ride to the airport. However, for many people, there are always these little doubts that creep into the mind. These little doubts can range from making sure everything is packed to making sure all the travel documents/visas are in order. This can often create stress and anxiety which can put a damper on vacation.
During my time traveling, I’ve experienced these same types of issues, and the one thing I’ve learned is that in order to be successful in your travels, PREPARATION IS THE KEY. I cannot stress this enough. If you prepare everything in advance and make sure everything is in order before you leave for the airport, it makes life a lot easier, and there is usually less chance of forgetting something important or running into an issue that can cause a major headache later on.
Here are 6 important pre-travel tips that can make an international trip flow much smoother:
1) Enroll in STEP
STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) is a program run by the US State Department that allows US citizens to register with the US embassy or consulate in the country that is being traveled to. This way, the US knows that you’ll be in the country, and they’ll have a record of your presence. The main goal of the program is to give the US government an ability to contact you in an emergency such as a political/civil unrest or a natural disaster in the country. It will also allow them to get in touch with family members if something should happen to you. If you enroll in the program, the US embassy can also send you updates on a status of a country in terms of travel advisories/warnings.
The program is free to enroll in, and all you need to do is create an account. Each time you travel, you should update it. Once you put your travel information in (countries visited, length of stay, hotel/residence you’re staying at, etc), you can rest easy knowing that the US embassy in that country knows you’re there and for how long. This is a particularly good service to use if you are traveling to countries that might not be seen as stable or as safe in terms of security, or if they lack a strong infrastructure to help tourists.
2) Set Travel Notifications for Debit and Credits Cards
Setting a travel notification with your bank is a very important pre-travel step. When you set a travel notification on your debit and credit cards, it let’s your bank know that you will be overseas, and if you should use any of those cards, it won’t be flagged as suspicious activity which can then freeze your account. I once forgot to set a travel notification for Iceland, and my credit card got blocked. Luckily, it just required a quick call to get it fixed, but you can avoid these types of issues by simply either calling your bank or setting a travel notification online.
Setting a travel notification with your bank is very easy and takes only a couple minutes. Be sure to consult your local bank or check its website for more information.
3) Check Visa Requirements
While this one seems to be common sense, you would be surprised at how many people get denied boarding at the airport or sent back to their home country on the next flight upon their arrival because they did not have a visa or proper documents in order. This is a very quick way to ruin a holiday.
When you’re trying to figure out a trip, always pay a visit to the US State Department International Travel section and check the entry/exit requirements of your chosen country. It often reflects the most current policies and rules, and this should be the #1 source for finding information on visa rules and policies.
While US citizens are extremely blessed and fortunate to be able to visit a large number of countries either without a visa or visa on arrival, there are still a significant number of places in the world that will require a visa. This could be anything ranging from an eVisa to paying a visit to the country’s consulate along with other hoops, such as providing a letter of invitation.
It is also worth mentioning that while some countries might grant a visa on arrival, they might require a visitor to bring one or two passport-sized photos and other documents along with a cash payment in USD. This was the case for getting a visa on arrival in Bolivia and Ethiopia. The best suggestion I can give is that when you look at the entry requirements, make sure to bring the required documents with you, and make sure to bring new and crisp dollars if a payment is required. I noticed in Bolivia that they were very keen on making sure the USD was brand new with no imperfections.
It is also important to note that getting a visa for some countries can be quite time consuming, so it is best to give yourself plenty of time for paperwork to be processed.
4) Arrange Airport Transfers
I cannot speak for everyone, but for me, the most stressful part of traveling is when I first arrive in a country, and I am in the arrivals hall in the airport of a new country. While it depends on the airport, the arrivals hall can often be a chaotic place with friends and family waiting, drivers holding up signs, and touts offering taxi services. This can be quite stressful, especially if you have been traveling for hours and are tired and not focused. This is also the key time when it is easiest to be taken advantage of.
This was a particular problem for me in my early years of travel. Nowadays, I usually contact the hotel a few days in advance to set up a transfer from the airport to the hotel. More often than not, this means a driver will be waiting with a sign with my name on it. Even though this service is usually a bit more expensive than getting a taxi or using local transportation, it is often the more comfortable and safer route, and you will not have to worry about any strange or unwelcome surprises.
It is also possible to book airport transfers from many different transportation companies. On occasion, when I do not contact the hotels directly, I will use Viator since many of the countries now offer airport transfer options. However, be aware that these services will probably be more expensive, but they are generally more reliable and safer.
5) Check for Electrical Outlets and Adapters
This is another pre-travel tip that a lot of people sometimes forget about, so when they get to their destination, they find that they do not have the proper adapter for the electrical outlets. This can cause problems since the hotel might not have any adapters for you to borrow. This means you will have to go search for one in a store, and that can take away from valuable exploration time.
Each time I chose a new country to head to, I always make sure to do a quick Google search on what kind of plug is used in that country. Once I have an idea of what I need, I then search through my various adapters and find the proper one. It is important to realize that some countries use more than one type of electrical outlets, so it is a good idea to bring a couple different adapters that the country uses since your accommodation might only have one type. I’ve found this to be the case several times. If I hadn’t brought the different kinds used in the country, I would have been stuck.
6) Check the Weather and Pack Accordingly
Although this is a basic travel tip, it is a very important one. The whole world does not have the same seasons at the same time. Just because it might be summer or winter where you live does not mean it will be that same season if you travel elsewhere. In fact, it could be the complete opposite.
Remember: Winter in the US in the Northern Hemisphere will be summer in the Southern Hemisphere and vice versa. It is important to always keep that in mind and pack accordingly.
If it’s July where you live and really hot, you don’t want to pack nothing but shorts and short sleeves and other summer-type of items if you’re going to Argentina, Chile, or Uruguay at that same time since it will be winter in those places and quite chilly. Even though you might feel silly bringing a jacket, scarves, and gloves to a country in the Southern Hemisphere in July, you’ll be thankful for it and won’t freeze.
When I went to South America in June and July, it was summer in the US and really hot. However, I went to airport with a jacket and scarves. I also made sure to pack long pants and long-sleeved shirts. I felt silly, but I was thankful since it was not particularly warm in South America at that time. Most recently, I was in South Africa in December. In my home in the Middle East, it is winter and rather cold and windy, but in South Africa, it was summer, and the weather was extremely hot and humid, yet I still brought my jacket and scarves knowing that I would need them when I returned.
Ultimately, the key to having a stress-free vacation is not necessarily making sure you have packed everything but making sure you have done these important 6 pre-travel tips. As I said in the beginning, preparation is the key. The more you prepare in advance, the less chance of being stressed on the day of departure since you will be able to rest easy knowing that you have all your ducks in a row.
What are some things you do before you travel to a new destination?