Planning for a big trip abroad? Use this checklist to help avoid a travel disaster
B and I are writing this article while preparing for a 21-day adventure to New Zealand. Planning for an extended trip abroad doesn’t need to stress you out, especially if you are mindful of some key to-do items. And start early because passports and doctor appointments can take weeks! We tend to learn the hard way, so many of these “tips” evolved from “oh crap” moments of stress. We hope to help you avoid making that by sharing our checklist.
Do these things now!
Check your passport expiration date
U.S. passports are valid for 10 years (five for children), so few of us pay attention to their expiration date. Airports will deny boarding for international travelers without a current passport. Some countries deny entry for passports expiring within six months of entry!
We recommend renewing your passport nine months prior to expiration to avoid any difficulty. The renewal process can take six to eight weeks, so don’t delay. If you already have a trip planned, you can expedite the process for a surcharge. This seemingly small detail could result in a travel disaster.
We shall pause here while you go check your passport expiration date because I know your heart is racing.
Do you need a travel visa?
A number of countries require U.S. visitors to purchase a travel visa prior to arrival, in addition to having a valid passport. This is easy to do online, but failing to obtain the proper visa will cause your headaches. Before any international travel, check the website Travel.State.Gov to learn about visa requirements, travel advisory alerts and local U.S. embassy emergency contact information.
How about travel immunizations?
Check with your doctor or the Centers for Disease Control for to see if your destination has vaccine recommendations or travel health precautions. Do it now. Vaccines take up to 30 days for full effect. And it may take weeks for a health care provider appointment.
Should you get foreign currency before you leave the U.S.?
We used to say yes, removing the stress of finding a currency exchange immediately on arrival for ground transportation, baggage tips, or some quick food. We changed that policy because ATM machines are common in airports and using the ATM is easier than ordering foreign currency through our bank or AAA. We carry $100 U.S. to use with an airport currency exchange vendor if an ATM is unavailable.
Do you have the proper voltage converter and adapter?
Find out what voltage your destination has. New Zealand is 220 volts and requires an outlet adapter, so we’ll be packing a converter and adapter, assuring our 110-volt gadgets don’t miss a beat. Beware: an adapter is different than a converter. You can damage expensive electronics using an adapter only and ignoring the converter if your device is designed to operate at 110 volts only.
Check out a new place for Fido or Frisky
Pet care can be a travel stress point, especially international trips that tend to be longer in duration. You may discover that your go-to family member is not able to pet sit for an extended period. Or your vet, pet sitter or kennel may be super expensive for extended stays. There are great pet boarding options with names like “spa” and “pampered” where Fido or Frisky will live like a king or queen. The good ones sell out during popular travel times. And there is a vetting process that involves information from your vet and sometimes an in-person (or is that in-pet) interview. Crazy I know. But now you know so do this early.
How’s your home security?
A big trip is great motivation for a home security audit. We’ve just installed motion-activated solar security lights and upgraded our old light timers to new smart devices that can be programmed remotely. Blink video cameras supplement our home security system, monitoring our property inside and out while away. Motion activates the wifi camera, recording a clip and alerting to your smart phone. High-resolution surveillance video provided positive I.D. of thieves during a recent break-in at our office so I am a big believer in the value of this. Blink cameras also monitor your household temperature, alerting you to heat or air conditioning failure and potentially avoiding costly frozen pipes.
Consider travel insurance and verify medical coverage
Travel insurance insures your travel financial investment. Typically it covers things like trip cancellation (policies vary) lost baggage, canceled flights and medical attention. Travel insurance varies greatly in cost and coverage so shop around. Insure My Trip provides quotes from several highly-rated insurance carriers, with options of good/better/best coverage and a good explanation of what each covers.
Common advice says only insure what you would lose if something unforeseen happens. For instance, our New Zealand hotels can all be cancelled without penalty with 24 hours notice so we elected NOT to insure that cost.
Do not assume that your U.S. medical insurance covers you abroad. Medicare, for instance, rarely provides coverage for hospitalization or treatment outside the U.S. Our Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance provides global medical care, but we purchase an annual supplemental policy for emergency medical evacuation.
Do these things two weeks prior to departure
- There may be some insurance challenges if your prescription is not at renewal time, but you need meds for your trip. This can be solved, but your pharmacy needs extra time in case it requires calling your insurance carrier with an explanation for the early refill.
- Make copies of your passport, driver’s license, credit cards and itinerary. If you save and reuse old copies like we do, make sure nothing has expired. If so, time for a new copy. Security expert Robert Macpherson suggests taking two copies with you and leave one behind with someone you trust.
- Put a hold on your mail (and newspaper if applicable) or arrange someone to get it for you. Holding your mail is easy to do online with the USPS website.
- Be mindful of delivery dates for packages. Ask a neighbor to check your porch periodically to collect any packages that may come while you are gone.
- Ditto for free newspapers that are left on your driveway. (Ugh. Don’t get me started. We get three each week and have been unable to have them stopped. ) Nothing says “hey, bad guy, we are not home if you want to help yourself to anything” like a driveway strewn with newspapers.
- Make sure your bills get paid! We get all our bills electronically and can pay the merchant directly or through our bank’s online payment system. Check credit card limits. If you bought big-ticket travel items prior to departure, you may not have enough credit limit for your upcoming trip.
What tips are on your list that we have not mentioned? Our list is an ever-evolving work in progress. We’d love your comments and suggestions on things to add. Also check our Top 10 tips for travel safety and security for more great ideas.
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