Whether you’re traveling for business, leisure, or social good, planning a successful trip is a process that begins well before you arrive at the airport. To take some of the stress out of your last-minute preparation, we’ve rounded up 10 tips from seasoned travel pros that you can use to embark confidently on your next overseas adventure!
For even more tips, check out our mini-series, #TravelSmartGiveResponsibly which shares about how to travel abroad safely while contributing to the greater good.
Here are our 10 tips, with added details and resources for each. For a complete list of all 10 tips, scroll to the end of the article.
1. Check Visa Requirements
First, check to see whether your trip will require a visa by starting with your own country’s travel advisory department. If you need help, here is a great resource to search visa requirements by country. This is also a great time to double-check that your passport isn’t expired! If you do need a visa, we’d suggest taking the following steps:
- Talk to your on-location contact (if you have one) about the need for a visa and recommended next steps. If they have been through this process before, they can offer valuable insights from previous experience.
- Identify whether you need any visa support (letters of invitation, etc.) from your on-location contact or equivalent- this is a request better made sooner rather than later to allow enough time for the person you’re requesting the letter from to complete it.
- Estimate how much money and time it will take for you to obtain a visa and whether you can acquire it in-country or if you must acquire it before you depart.
- Ensure that the time it will take for you to acquire a visa falls within the previously established timeline for your trip. If the timeline is cutting it close, be sure to maintain regular communication with your on-location contact or equivalent to stay updated on delays and, if necessary, to change your travel dates.
- Double-check when your passport is expiring as most countries require that your passport be valid for 6 months AFTER your travel dates. Remember that renewing your passport can also be a time-consuming process, so it helps to plan ahead!
2. Register With Your Country’s Embassy & Check Travel Advisories
Your safety is the most important part of your trip! We highly encourage you to check various resources for travel advisories, which will notify you of any potentially unstable situations taking place in your destination. Your on-location contact will be your best resource for on-the-ground potential security updates, however, it never hurts to double-check. We’d recommend starting with: US Department of State Travel Warnings and Nations Online Travel Warnings.
If you’re a US Citizen, we’d recommend that you register here with US State Department – other countries have their own processes, which you can find with a Google search like “[YOUR COUNTRY] Citizen register for international travel”.
3. Choose Travel Insurance
As each traveler is different, MovingWorlds does not have a specific recommendation for which type of coverage to enroll in. To point you in the right direction as you start researching options, we’ve included some useful resources here to support you as you decide what makes sense for your individual needs:
- Here is a useful breakdown of different types of coverage from NerdWallet
- Here is a company comparison from Reviews.com
- Use Squaremouth for easy price and feature comparisons of international travel insurance
4. Compile Emergency Contact Info & Itinerary into One Document to Share
We recommend compiling all of the logistical and emergency contact information for your trip into one document so that you can access it easily while you’re abroad and also leave a copy at home with a trusted friend/family member.
If you’re going overseas to volunteer your skills through MovingWorlds, we’ll provide you with a customized planning guide so that you and your host organization representative can align on all expectations and logistics before your trip.
Even if you’re going on your own, we suggest aligning with your on-location contact on the following items:
- Traveler’s full itinerary, including airline, flight number, and arrival/departure time
- Airport pick up plans (we’d suggest having a backup plan as well, just in case)
- Things to keep in mind related to your particular point of entry, for example, navigating a large airport to find the ground transportation or being aware of illegal taxis
- Contact Information
- Of your on-location contact (or place you’ll be staying): primary contact person, phone number, physical address, and email address.
- Of your emergency contact back home: primary contact person, phone number, physical address, and email address.
- Of local emergency services: including local police, fire, and embassy services.
Before you depart, make 2 copies of this document and 2 photocopies of your Passport– one to leave with a trusted friend/family member at home, and one to bring with you in your carry-on luggage. We’d also recommend sending this information to yourself via email as a backup so that you’ll have a full record in case you lose the printed copy.
5. Visit Your Doctor for Vaccines & Medications
Check the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Website for a list of recommended vaccines and medications specific to your destination to discuss with your doctor at least 4 weeks before you depart for your trip. The CDC website also includes tips on staying healthy and safe, which are definitely worth a read. In addition, make sure that you have enough of any current prescription medications to last the duration of your trip. The medication you’re looking for may or may not be available in your host country, which you can typically find out via a quick Google search.
If you’re going to be overseas for a longer period of time, consider asking your current doctor for a letter explaining what diagnoses you have, what medications you are currently taking (and at what dosages), and how long your current physician has been treating you. Ask your physician to print and sign this letter so that you can bring it with you and present it to your new physician on-location to minimize any gaps in continuity of care.
6. Electronics Check + Phone Compatibility
Are you planning to bring a phone with you? Will your existing phone work on-location? Depending on the length of your trip, you may need to look into international phone options before you depart. There are multiple options available, including:
- using your existing phone with an international calling plan
- purchasing an international cell phone
- renting a cell phone
- using your existing phone with an international SIM card.
SmarterTravel breaks down the pros and cons of each option here.
Pro Tip: If you are planning to bring an existing cell phone to use with an international SIM card, double-check that your phone is compatible with the network on-location. As this article explains, different wireless technologies are used in different parts of the world. The two main factors that you’ll want to look into are 1. CDMA vs. GSM, and 2. Wireless Frequencies.
The article includes resources to check compatibility on both fronts. In addition, in some instances your phone must be “unlocked” to work on a foreign network. It’s worth the effort to make sure you don’t arrive on-location with a phone that doesn’t work!
To know what SIM card to use, where to buy it, and how much it will cost, check out this handy tool by Too Many Adapters, which contains guides for buying local SIM cards for over 60 countries.
Another question to ask yourself is: do you need a power adapter to use/charge your electronics? This SmartTravel article contains a full breakdown of electricity overseas (converters, adapters, and beyond) and useful links to find out exactly what you’ll need to stay plugged in, wherever you’re going.
7. Access to Money
The scenario to avoid is being abroad without access to your funds. To prevent this nightmare situation, we suggest taking the following steps:
- Call your bank to let them know that you will be overseas and accessing your account via ATM. This informs your bank that your card has not been stolen and keeps your funds available to you while you are traveling. Your bank will also be able to confirm whether your card will work at your destination location, whether they have branches in that location, and provide a breakdown of foreign transaction and ATM fees. This article from Expert Vagabond expands on these and other helpful tips related to taking financial precautions before traveling abroad.
- It is advisable to take a mixture of money – credit card, debit card, and cash in various denominations. You can usually get the best exchange rate by withdrawing cash from a bank ATM, but it’s a good idea to exchange a little bit of your cash at the airport to have some local currency on-hand when you arrive. We highly recommend that you also check out Lonely Planet’s Travel Money Essentials, which is full of other relevant travel money tips.
- Consider how you’ll be carrying your money on-location before you depart. Purses with cross-body straps, multiple zippers, and securely closed compartments can help secure your belongings against theft, making them ideal for travel. Another great option to keep your cash, passport, or other small valuables secure is using a money belt that sits on your waist. There are styles available that are comfortable and discreet!
- In a secure place, write down your credit card numbers and the ‘emergency assistance’ toll-free number printed on the back of the card. If you lose your card, having this information on hand will make it much easier to get in touch with your bank and to put a hold on your account if the card is stolen. Consider also leaving a copy of this information with your trusted friend/family member at home, too, in case someone has to go to the bank in-person and you are unable to.
8. Research Your Destination
Your experience on-site will be greatly enhanced by understanding the context of the place you’re visiting. Two helpful resources to get started are The World Factbook, which provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities, and Hoefstede’s Cultural Comparison tool, which provides valuable insights into the subtler differences across cultures.
Here are a few other helpful topics to consider as you research your destination:
- How do people meet and greet? Are there different formal vs. informal greetings?
- What is the gift giving etiquette?
- What is an appropriate way to dress?
- What forms of public transportation will you be most likely to use? Are there any safety restrictions or recommendations that you should be aware of??
- How will you get from “home” to “office”?
- What types of food and dishes are typical in your location?
- If you have any dietary restrictions, what precautions should you take?
9. Pack Your Bag Efficiently
Pack your bag efficiently to maximize space and options. Packing is always the most dreaded part of an exciting trip, but we’ve compiled this section to make things easier!
Here are some key factors to consider:
Length of your trip.
- Do you need to pack enough to cover 1 week? 1 month? 1 year? Do you need to get a backup of anything in case you run out? For longer trips, we suggest finding out whether you’ll have a means to wash your clothes while on location. Keep in mind that if you can repeat items, you’ll be able to significantly lighten your load.
Destination Climate and Culture
- Take advantage of the local expertise that your Host Organization Representative has by asking about the typical/appropriate attire, local weather during the season of your visit, and any special considerations (such as bringing a raincoat).
Availability of Essential Items
- Particularly for longer trips, it is helpful to research the availability of essential items at your destination. If an item isn’t locally available, such as a specific medication, it’s a good idea to bring a back-up from home.
Method of Travel
- What are the logistics involved with getting you and your luggage from point A to point B? This might inform how much you decide to bring. For example, you might want to pack a lighter, smaller bag if you were taking crowded public transportation along the way to your destination.
Think Dual Purpose
- The best items for traveling light are dual-purpose items. When selecting clothes, consider whether an item can be worn multiple times/with other items. This can expand your options without adding weight to your bag.
10. Be Ready to Document Your Experience
Reflection is a valuable tool to integrate and process the experience you’re having while abroad. We recommend keeping either a physical hand-written journal or an online blog to document your trip. This serves both a professional and personal purpose. You can use this as a record of the specific learnings and achievements that you’ve accomplished to add to your resume later, and personally it can be a great place to work through any challenges and to record the non-work related experiences you want to remember so that you can share with family and friends.
- Check Visa Requirements
- Register With Your Country’s Embassy and Check Travel Advisories
- Choose Travel Insurance
- Compile Emergency Contact Information and Itinerary into One Document to Share
- Visit Your Doctor for Vaccines and Medications
- Electronics Check + Phone Compatability
- Access to Money
- Research Your Destination
- Pack Your Bag Efficiently
- Be Ready to Document Your Experience
For even more tips, check out our mini-series, #TravelSmartGiveResponsibly as well as our complete guide to volunteering your skills overseas.
If you’re interested in taking the leap into your own skills-based volunteering experience abroad, apply to Experteer with MovingWorlds or to join our next MovingWorlds Institute cohort, kicking off in Mexico City January 2018!