Nine Musts for Traveling Abroad

by Matt B

FlyingMy little brother called me yesterday, wondering if I would like to take a trip. I was taken aback, as he is still in school, has very limited money and even less time. He proceeded to tell me that he and my sister were in preliminary plans to take a trip to Europe, hitting up a few countries in the process. I’m pretty sure he knew the answer before he even asked, but extended the invitation anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to travel overseas. Unfortunately, I had to decline his request. I would rather go when I have ample funds and NO DEBT. If I did not, the money aspect of the trip would eat away at me the whole time I was away.

Since I am slightly jealous, but still a decent brother at heart, I decided to put together a few “musts” for traveling overseas. Little brother, this one’s for you.

Get Passports FAR in Advance.

Getting a passport is not hard, but it can take a while. You are dealing with the government, after all. If all goes well, you should receive your passport about 6 weeks after applying. You can also expedite the process (for a fee, of course) and get it in about 2 weeks. If there are any problems with your application or you for some reason have citizenship issues, 6 weeks would be a miracle. I recommend giving at least 4 months to ensure there are no snags in getting this essential document.

Cash, Credit, Debit, or Traveler’s Checks?

With the introduction and rise in use of debit and credit, traveler’s checks are almost obsolete. If you have used them before and like their ease of use and security, by all means use them. Cash will be a necessity for some things, but you do not have to use them everywhere on your trip. Credit and Debit cards are easily used in most developed areas of the world and are probably the most secure, but there can be drawbacks. Contact your bank or card issuer to let them know when you will be traveling and ask them is there are any branches available where you will be. There is a pretty decent chance that they will have “sister” banks that do not charge or at least give a discount on ATM fees. Most importantly, ask whether they charge to convert to US dollars. If they do, also ask if it is a per transaction fee, or a one time fee. If they charge for foreign conversion on every transaction, use cash or traveler’s checks. It will cost you less overall. If you do have to get some foreign cash, do it at the bank. Airports and private exchange counters charge a far higher exchange rate than if you order in advance from the bank.

Plan as Much as Possible

It is probably not the smartest idea to stroll into a foreign country without a place to stay and some sort of itinerary. If you like to live on the edge, or are an amazing at networking, don’t bother planning. If you would like some stability and piece of mind, plan your vacation well.

Emergency Preparedness

On trips longer than 2 weeks, register with the State Department (this can be done online here). This will make your whereabouts known and make it easier for you to be contacted (and for your loved ones to be contacted) in case of emergency during your travels. Many places you will travel will have internet access readily available, so do not forget your laptop to keep in contact with others.

Know the Laws and Customs

In many areas of the world, there are laws that are much different than ours here. I’m not saying that you have to have the knowledge of an attorney just to travel, but have a decent working knowledge about what is expected of your demeanor. If you know someone where you are going, have them give you a rundown of do’s and don’ts before you leave.

See if you Need Adapters

Many of the outlets are much different in foreign countries. Know if you will need an adapter for your devices. You could be getting ripped off if you are stuck buying an adapter at the airport or a convenience store.

Protect Your Possessions

This should go without saying, but carry on your more valuable items, and conceal them well.


Get in touch with your insurance provider to see if you are covered. If not (you really might not be), travel insurance may be something you want. Usually, travel insurance can be obtained pretty inexpensively and may just end up being the best move you have ever made.

Take Advantage of Public Transportation

The US has one of the worst public transportation systems in the world. Most countries in Europe and Asia have well-run and inexpensive public transportation. Use this to your advantage. Take trains and buses instead of that crusty looking gypsy cab that is idling at the corner.

Have fun on your trip. See ya soon!

Photo: milan.boers


Sean August 4, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Great post! Very informative, I had almost forgotten about the outlets not being the same…

The sister August 4, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Thanks! I forgot about changing money….I will definitely have to refer back to this in the coming months!!! You’re an awesome brother!

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